Our world is consumed with pride.
So are we, if we’re honest. Or maybe it’s just me.
We see this pride in everything. The media proudly struts about, pounding their nonsense into the brains of those foolish enough to listen to them, lecturing us about how we should be living a more woke life. The education system proudly flaunts the fact that they have largely abandoned traditional teaching methods and classic education and, rather than teaching our children how to think and read and interact with their fellow humans, they clamor about how modern their methods are, while teachers unions whine about doing their job because they might get sick. The government so proudly lectures us, in the persons of the radical left, about how we are all racists and sexual bigots because we (Catholics) cling to the Faith. Our own Church hierarchy, in their arrogance, feel that they can adjust the Tradition of the Church to fit into their liberal ideology and expect the faithful to just go along with the nonsense.
It’s everywhere and consumes all in its path.
This was, perhaps, the great sin of Lucifer. In his pride, he wanted to be the star of the show, not some lowly virgin who would give miraculous birth and certainly not to God the Son who would dare to lower Himself to become human. How dare God not recognize the beauty and knowledge and wonder of him, Lucifer thought! He was and is consumed by pride.
But our readings today point us in a very different direction. Our Epistle is St. Paul’s famous text on humility: Philippians 2:5-11. Our gospel reading is St. Matthew’s narrative of the Passion of our Lord Jesus: Matthew 26:36-75, 27:1-60.
Let us consider together the humility of our Lord Jesus. St. Paul reminds us that we are to have the mind of Christ. And, in our text today, what is the mind of Christ?
He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. God the Son, who has existed for all eternity, through Whom the world was made, for Whom the world was made, took upon Himself human flesh. He took on all our weakness and frailty. Imagine, brothers and sisters. God has become human. He emptied Himself of the glory in which He lived and the constant praise of the angelic hosts to hear the hateful words of sinful man who spat on Him and mocked Him. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating on this fact and not exhaust its depths:
He emptied Himself.
He humbled Himself, being obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Fathom, if you can, the humility of the God-man, God the Son, who was and is and is to come. He obeyed the will of the Father, knowing it would cost Him agony that we cannot possibly comprehend and suffering a death that was excruciating beyond what we can imagine. Look at our gospel reading and see His agony. He was beaten, spat upon, stripped naked, nailed to a cross. Behold His suffering and fall on your knees, brothers and sisters.
And we, brothers and sisters, we not only observe but are invited to participate in His very Passion. What grace He has given us, that we should be joined to His suffering and death by faith! We cannot, we must not turn away from our own suffering for, in it, we embrace the suffering of our Messiah.
Embrace the humility of our Lord Jesus in your own life. In the garden, He said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me.”
What an invitation He has given us! We are invited to stay with Him and watch with Him in prayer!
Do our souls sorrow for our sins?
Do we watch with Christ in prayer?
Our Lord said to the Father, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Are we willing to submit to the will of the Father, no matter the cost? Are we willing to submit our own will? Do we submit to His Church, and thus to Him, or do we demand our own way? Let us take to heart the words of our Savior, even in His suffering and Passion,
“Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak.”
Let us embrace what our Lord has gone before us to show. Let us take to heart His words and amend our lives, rend our hearts and submit. Let us watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation. Our flesh is indeed weak and selfish and prideful. Pray, brothers and sisters, that your spirit would be made willing. Fast, pray, embrace the life our Lord has called us to, a life of submission to the will of the Father and service to our Lord Jesus.
And what shall come of us after we have submitted, after we have fasted and prayed, after we have submitted to the will of the Father?
Like the veil of the temple, our hearts will be torn in two. Not in pain but in freedom. For the veil of our flesh and sin that has separated us from God our Father will have been torn finally in two. Our hearts of stone will become hearts of true flesh. We shall have then the mind of Christ. And we shall see our Lord face to face, as He is.
Oh, this is the end, dear brothers and sisters, of embracing the Passion of our Lord. We shall be made in His image and we shall see Him face to face! Watch ye, therefore, and pray!
Forgiveness and mercy are not well understood or practiced in our day.
It’s like the Church knows all that was going to happen in some weird way and arranged the lectionary readings for times such as we live in.
Our readings today are not different. I want to offer my own reflection on the texts for this Sunday. Our readings (leaving out the Epistle) were:
Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Let’s consider our Gospel reading first. I feel like we need some context. At the beginning of Matthew 18, the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.
Can we just take a second and realize that the disciples just weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed?! I mean, for real. These guys had been learning from and living with Jesus day in and day out for quite awhile, watching Him heal sick people and multiply fish and bread…and then they ask dumb questions like this.
If I’m being honest, it kinda gives me comfort. If these dudes don’t get it after all this time, I don’t feel so bad about myself when I don’t “get it” at times either. But, thanks be to God He uses guys like Peter and guys like you and me.
Anyways, context is important so we need to look at it. They ask Jesus who is the greatest. Jesus, being all Jesus, tells them stories rather than give them a direct answer. He brings a child among them and tells them to be humble like a child. Then He tells them to pluck out their eyeballs and cut off their hand rather than be tempted to sin (that seems a little harsh). Then He tells the parable of the lost sheep and how to respond to those who refuse to repent. Then He gives them the authority to forgive sins.
It was a pretty serious conversation.
Now we pick up where our reading today begins. Peter, after just hearing all this, opens up his big mouth and says, “How many times should I forgive someone who sins against me?”
I would have paid money to see the look on Jesus’ face when that bone-headed question came out of St. Peter’s mouth.
So Jesus, being all Jesus, tells another story. He tells a story to compare Peter’s (and our) understanding of forgiveness and mercy to the heavenly understanding of forgiveness and mercy. Do you see that?
See, our understanding of forgiveness and mercy is based on self.
What do I get out of it?
What’s in it for me?
What’s the least I have to do?
That’s all implied in Peter’s question. In effect, he’s saying, “Jesus, tell me the least I have to do.” He didn’t ask that Jesus make him humble like a child and free him from sin and fall on his face saying ‘I’m not worthy’ when Jesus gives him authority to forgive sins. No, Peter wants to know what’s the least I gotta do?
We’re exactly the same as Peter. I mean, if we’re being honest with ourselves. We’re not really interested in knowing what Jesus wants from us, not really. We just want to get by with the least we can do. We don’t really want to be humble like a child; we don’t really want to radically obey Him and be willing to give up anything (even a limb) if it meant being closer to Him; we don’t really want to know about forgiveness and mercy. If we did, we wouldn’t be like Peter or the wicked servant in the parable.
But we are.
What is Jesus saying to us then? How are we to respond?
Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of God is different. In the Kingdom, the King is overly kind and generous, forgiving us a debt we cannot possibly pay. In the Kingdom, we forgive as we have been forgiven. There are expectations of us if we are part of the Kingdom. He expects us to forgive as He forgives. After all, the petty things that people say to us and do to us pale in comparison to the cosmic treason we have committed against our Creator, our Lord and King!
Sirach 8:2-7 reminds us,
“Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord? Does he have no mercy toward a man like himself, and yet pray for his own sins? If he himself, being flesh, maintains wrath, will he then seek forgiveness from God? Who will make expiation for his sins? Remember the end of your life, and cease from enmity, remember destruction and death, and be true to the commandments. Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbor; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook ignorance.”
Who God is and what He demands of us as we follow Him aren’t always easy. But let us remember who God is!
King David reminds us in Psalm 103 that the Lord forgives iniquities and heals our diseases (vs. 3), He redeems our life from the Pit and crowns us with mercy and compassion (vs. 4), He will not always chide nor keep His anger forever (vs. 9), He does not deal with us according to our sins (vs. 10) but, in His mercy, removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (vs. 12)!
Oh Church, look upon the mercy of our great God! See how He has forgiven us in the blood of the Son! By our faith in the perfect and spotless slain Lamb of God, our sins are removed and we who were once servants who could not possibly pay the debt we owe are now called children of God; sons and daughters of the Most High!
Oh Church, let us give Him thanks and praise for His everlasting mercy! He does not deal with us according to our sins but according to His great love which He has shown to us in Christ our Lord!
Thanks be to God!